New York City recently announced a winner in its competition to build “tiny” apartments. The winner will build 55 apartment as small as 250 square feet on City provided land with additional subsidies. Yet, rents for these apartments will be comparable to market rate studio apartments in this pilot program to provide more “affordable” housing.
Any effort to provide more housing in New York City should be applauded, but this pilot program raises questions. Why stop at 250 square feet? San Francisco last year legalized apartment as small as 220 square feet while Paris permits apartments of less than 100 square feet. Of course, there are plenty of “tiny” apartments in existing rental and co-op buildings, many with less than 100 square feet, so it hardly seems necessary to demonstrate that even the tiniest spaces can be livable and are in demand. New York City could produce more housing faster if it simply picked a number, together with minimum habitability standards, and then let the private sector see if it can fill the niche.
But in New York City, it seems, anything called affordable housing requires a City imprimatur. Take for example the history of SRO housing (essentially rooms with common bathrooms) in New York. Decades ago, the City determined that SRO housing was sub-standard and banned any such new construction, except by a non-profit housing entity. But there is a market for such housing, as reflected by the remaining SRO stock, so why not re-legalize a form of housing that has served a distinct segment of the market. Maybe, after a few more competitions, we will get back to where we were.
– Jack Freund, Executive Vice President, Rent Stabilization Association (RSA)
(Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the RSA.)